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‘Power of the Purse’: Fundraiser to support efforts in early childhood education

Renee Nolting, executive director of the United Way of West Central Minnesota, shows off some of the 40-plus purses that will be auctioned off Saturday night for the annual “Power of the Purse” fundraiser. The event, hosted by the United Way women’s philanthropy program, will raise money to support kindergarten readiness efforts. Tribune photo by Anne Polta

WILLMAR — More than 40 purses, from casual totes to designer handbags, will be auctioned off this weekend when the United Way of West Central Minnesota holds its annual “Power of the Purse” fundraiser.

Proceeds will benefit Empower, the United Way women’s philanthropy program, and its efforts to promote kindergarten readiness among children in Kandiyohi County.

The event will be held Saturday at the Life Center Auditorium on the MinnWest Technology Campus. It starts at 6:30 p.m. with a social hour and silent auction. Guest speaker Katie Dilse of Fargo, N.D., will give an inspirational talk at 8 p.m., followed by a live auction at 9 p.m.

Donated purses filled the office last week of Renee Nolting, executive director of the United Way of West Central Minnesota.

The annual purse auction is the main way that Empower enlists community help in supporting its kindergarten readiness initiative, she said. “This is the key fundraiser.”

The financial support is important, said Patti Dols, co-chair of Empower: Women United in Philanthropy.

“We’re looking forward to continuing our mission,” she said. “But also the event is an opportunity to remind the community that we are dedicated to making a difference. The community has been great because it has supported this endeavor.”

More than 40 purses will be up for sale in the silent and live auctions. They range from high-end bags by Kate Spade and Coach to casual totes for the beach. Among the novelty handbags are a shiny black clutch woven from recycled cassette tapes and a shoulder bag made with an authentic swatch of the old Metrodome roof.

This is the seventh year that Empower has been working to help prepare the youngest learners to succeed in kindergarten.

School readiness is key in helping children progress successfully from their first year of school through high school graduation, said Nolting.

“If you can get kids on the right path, it makes a difference for them,” she said.

Research has found that the gap between children who receive preschool education and children who don’t is approximately 18 months at the start of kindergarten, Dols said. “So it’s huge.”

One of Empower’s most visible efforts is the Growmobile, a mobile preschool that makes the rounds of child care centers, apartments and neighborhoods to bring learning and fun activities to where children live.

The Growmobile started as a seasonal program but now operates year round. New sites have been added to ensure the program reaches everyone, especially children with the greatest need for preschool learning.

Empower also funds 1,000 backpacks filled with art supplies and learning activities that are handed out to children at preschool screenings.

An Early Childhood Children’s Cabinet, formed last year and consisting of all the local entities that provide services in early childhood education, is working to leverage efforts across the community to support early success in school, Dols said.

One of the cabinet’s accomplishments was the adoption of a mutually agreed-on assessment tool for measuring children’s progress through preschool education. This is the first year that preschoolers have been assessed throughout the school year and the results from this past fall and winter have been very encouraging, Dols said.

“We have data now that definitely shows this makes a difference,” she said. “It’s really quite dramatic. We will have hard data going forward.”

 Tickets for Power of the Purse are available online at

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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